The Art of Social Commentary

Why Charles Dickens should be our social commentary muse.

“Where Dickens wielded a pen, today we wield a smartphone.”


“Please, sir, I want some more.” These are the famous words of the hungry orphan, Oliver Twist. The novel, so named after the main character, is one of Dickens most popular, and if you don’t know anything about the novel, you have probably still heard those words.

But beyond simply writing and creating a great story around Oliver Twist, Dickens created him for a purpose beyond the page of a book. Twist became a form of social commentary.

Read the rest at Fathom Mag >>

 

Aging With Grace: How Death Will Restore Youth

Peter Pan is one of my favorite stories. Neverland is a place throbbing with human longing—a magical paradise where a boy with eternal youth lives at its center. Though we know the story isn’t real, that doesn’t stop our hearts from yearning for the eternal youth and beauty it represents. We strive to attain it.

Our cultural obsession with youth and beauty presents itself through the anti-aging industry. We hate to see beauty fade away. We color the silver hairs that slowly overtake our youthful roots. We lather on anti-aging creams that promise to make wrinkles fade. We surgically modify our bodies to make them seem young again.

Science is also on this anti-aging quest.

According to The Guardian’s science correspondent, Hannah Devlin, a new form of gene therapy may reverse the aging process. Devlin says that this adds to the mounting evidence already in existence, which says that wear and tear is not what leads to physical decay, but an internal genetic clock that causes our bodies to enter a state of decline.

“The scientists are not claiming that ageing can be eliminated, but say that in the foreseeable future treatments designed to slow the ticking of this internal clock could increase life expectancy,” says Devlin.

According to this research, Peter Pan might be a real story someday. At least, in some sense.

Read the rest at Gospel Taboo >>

Feeling the Midnight Moonlight Music of Ravyn Lenae

The agony of love lost, the hurt of betrayal, the hopelessness of depression, the despair of loneliness, and the torture of anxiety are transformative emotional experiences. Whenever we come in contact with these emotions, we grow up a little. We are imparted a fuller dimension of the human experience in a broken world. Through God’s grace, such difficult emotions can also become a catalyst for growth. Though we can feel like we’re trapped in a suffocating cocoon, in the hands of our redeemer, such emotional experiences can transform us into free-flying butterflies.

With her latest release, Midnight Moonlight, 18-year-old Ravyn Lenae grows up a little too. In an interview with Rolling Stone, where she was named as one of March’s 10 artists to watch, Lenae used colors to explain the difference between her first EP and this one. “Moon Shoes is very pink and yellow, and maybe orange, very bright, whereas Midnight Moonlight is purple and blue and, I don’t know, gray,” she said. “Not to say those colors are sad, because a lot of times people like to equate those colors with sadness, or [being] blue. But those colors are more emotion-felt, and deep, and sultry.”

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

Made for community: The church, marriage and dying to self

I recently took my son to see “The LEGO Batman Movie,” and I was struck by its depth. Batman teams up with LEGO to show, not just the dark side of Gotham City’s villains, but the dark side of the dark knight. The LEGO cartoons always seem to depict Batman in a unique way from the other superheroes: as the loner. He likes to work alone and is portrayed as emotionally distant, egotistical and self-preserving. He’s afraid of being close or needing anybody in his life, especially emotionally. But by the end of the film, relationship and community trump individualism. Batman takes a long look inside himself and changes.

Individualism in America

Batman is one example of individualism. According to Britannica, individualism became a core part of American ideology by the 19th century. As James Bryce, British ambassador to the United States, wrote in The American Commonwealth in 1888: “Individualism, the love of enterprise, and the pride in personal freedom have been deemed by Americans not only their choicest, but [their] peculiar and exclusive possession.”

In her article for The Federalist, Heather Judd, traces back the history of individualism to the Enlightenment, where truth derived from reason and the self was exalted. Then, the Industrial Revolution centralized work in factories, which relied more on the individual for work instead of the family unit. Judd then brings the history to our present reality:

By the mid-nineteenth century, transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau turned from rationalism but continued to extol the self-sufficiency of the individual. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have dutifully followed the path they blazed, separating the individual from society, then family, and now even the self, as we question whether we have any inherent identity apart from our transitory desires and feelings.

Judd goes on to say that these historical shifts have brought our culture to a place where we navigate life from the perspective of the individual. These roots go down deep. Our country was established with the desire for independence and self-government, for good reason. And more than that, our first father and mother sought independence from their Creator. But that’s not the calling our heavenly Father has for us spiritually.

Read the rest at The ERLC >>

Man-Made Coverings

I see them walk down the street engulfed in a black baggy fabric. I see their veiled faces at the library’s story time. At the grocery store or at the park they might wear a bright scarf draped over their heads and gathered around their necks with faces exposed. These are the Muslim women dressed in different forms of hijab (covering) in my community. These differing forms of covering are a sign of modesty and religious faith. Though we don’t follow these specific dress codes in the Christian faith perhaps we spiritually put on our own personal coverings.

It’s not that the external has no importance in the Christian faith, but it should be the internal reality of the Spirit’s work in our hearts that flows out into the externals of our faith. Not the other way around. We know band-aids don’t heal cancer, just like when we put on something externally that does not solve the internal issues of the human heart. It’s a shallow fix when we put on external morality and behavior in place of a changed heart.  Could the Christian hijab be a performance-based mentality that we impose on ourselves and others?

Read the rest at For The Church >>

The Calling of The Unknown Brother

When I was eighteen I had the opportunity to visit a missionary couple in Peru. I traveled with them up and down the coast watching and engaging in ministry work with them. A few of our days were spent in Trujillo, where I stayed with Jim Elliot’s older brother, Bert, and his wife, Colleen. Jim and Elisabeth Elliot were my all time heroes. So, I was shrieking inside like a fan girl at the Elliot’s home. At that point, Bert and Colleen, had spent fifty plus years of ministry in Peru. They left for the jungles right after their wedding, and then eventually settled in the city of Trujillo. I had always idolized Jim, his life, work, and death, and aspired to be like him. But I had never even heard about the life of his brother and his work. Bert lasted much longer on this earth than Jim, and yet his story is not famous. He is the unknown brother.

Read the rest at Morning by Morning >>

Refuse to Escape: Facing Reality by Looking at Christ

In the final installment of The Hunger Games series, a few of the characters are held captive and undergo traumatizing torture designed to blur the lines between fantasy and reality. When the prisoners are rescued they don’t know if their memories are real or not, so when a memory would surface they would seek validation by asking, “Real? Not Real?”

The series itself explores this blurring of lines between fantasy and reality as a way to critique our own culture. The dystopian society of The Hunger Games is a reflection of deeper truths in us all and society at large. In a world where strangers having sex is one click away on a computer screen, where social media splits up our public and private lives and Google is the informational authority, it can leave us asking, “Real? Not Real?

When a culture mixes a bit of fantasy and reality together it makes facing stark reality that much harder. It’s not just advertisers who are adept at generating fantasies. We’re all generating fantasies when we attempt to escape reality. How do we know we are trying to escape reality? When we use objects or people in a way to self-soothe or gain control. In the heart of every sinner is a user and abuser. Only corrupt sinners are adept at generating fantasies through using substances and experiences wrongly. This isn’t just about those who religiously attend Alcoholics Anonymous—it’s what’s lurking inside every sinful heart.

Read the rest at The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission >>

The Love Connection in The Lego Batman Movie

It’s not only the dark side of Gotham City’s villains that we see in The Lego Batman Movie. We also see the dark side of the dark knight.

While the constant comedy of this family movie keeps the content lighthearted, the character development of Batman himself gives the film a sense of depth. The conflict Batman/Bruce Wayne faces is lurking inside the crevices of his heart; his change involves unmasking himself so he can learn to give and receive love.

Batman lost his parents to the crime-ridden streets of Gotham, which creates in him a passion for fighting crime. The Lego Batman Movie suggests he uses this mission as a way to avoid dealing directly with his traumatic past. In one scene, his butler Alfred catches Batman lost in thought as he gazes at a wall of family photos. Alfred suggests that Batman settle down and give up the mask. But Batman puts on his mask of denial and avoids facing his greatest fear, which, Alfred claims, is having a family again. Batman has kept himself safe from experiencing pain by being a loner, acting independently, being egotistical, and by staying focused on the physical aspects of his life. All of these are mechanisms that help numb himself to feeling any strong emotions.

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

The Captivating Power of a Good Family

The more books I read to my kids, the more movies I watch with them, and the more Disney Junior shows they consume, I see one clear gospel message: “Believe in yourself.” But a close runner-up to this message would be a gospel about family, for instance in the powerful and popular new show, This Is Us. Many movies today, for every age and demographic, bring the moral of the story back to the family.

The workaholic dad finally finds his meaning in his family. The working mom that barely gets it all done realizes her life is really about her family. The rebellious teen ends up finding healing in his family. It’s a typical theme, moral, or virtue that is lifted up as one of many gods of our age. The family is often portrayed as the salvation of mankind. Family is where we find ultimate meaning.

It’s good, clean fun to believe in family, so nobody questions it. As Christians, we can agree with the value of family in movies and television, because we know the God who designed and blessed the family structure.

Read the rest at Desiring God >>

How Do We Make America Great?

If we want to make America great again, we have to define greatness. America’s foundation was based on some noble principles and founded by moral, yet also sinful, men. But America has also expanded, in some ways, due to injustice. Our nations history (and even the present) is littered with brutality, intolerance of other people groups and cultures, and racism. We can’t ignore that some of our “greatness” was built on exploiting others who did not count among the white privileged. If this is greatness, then Christ’s church must have no part. Instead we must proclaim what true greatness is to our nation.

True greatness starts with the individual, and it begins in the heart. A nation can’t be truly great unless its people are truly great. And those who are truly great follow in the pattern of greatness that Jesus left for us and instructs us in (Philippians 2:3-8). Jesus did not come as a political liberator, but came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). He didn’t come to lord it over everyone or to achieve honor, riches, and power. He didn’t have to, because he already had those things. Instead, he laid those things aside to become less than what he was. In Luke 22:24-27 Jesus’ disciples are arguing over who is greatest among them. Jesus tells them they must not be like “the kings of the Gentiles who exercise lordship over them“(Luke 22:25), but he instructs them to lead through service (Luke 22:26). He then gives a picture of one who reclines at table and the one who serves at the table (Luke 22:27). The disciples would have associated greatness with the one who gets to recline at the table and be served, but Jesus turns that idea upside down and says, “But I am among you as the one who serves.”

Read the rest at Morning by Morning >>

The Place of Real Arrival

Good science-fiction consists of more than just alien invasions, body-snatchers, and “Take me to your leader.” Done well, sci-fi tells us deep truths about ourselves and our world. The Oscar-nominated film Arrival most definitely falls into this type of good sci-fi because of the way it takes the viewer deeper into the emotions of human experience. As film critic Anthony Lane wrote in The New Yorker, “What lingers, days after you leave the cinema, is neither the wizardry nor the climax but the zephyr of emotional intensity that blows through the film.”

Director Denis Villeneuve is the wizard behind the wizardry of Arrival, while Amy Adams plays the main character: a respected linguist named Dr. Louise Banks. The United States Army seeks out Dr. Banks and her top-notch translation skills so she can help them decipher what a group of mysterious, newly arrived aliens want with the human race.

Arrival doesn’t begin with the aliens, however. The opening sequence of the film shows us intensely emotional scenes from the life of one person, beginning to end. In a matter of minutes, we feel boundless joy, soul-twisting loss, and the agony of sorrow. Villeneuve masterfully crafts this sequence, helping us see and feel the fleeting nature of time from a distance, and all at once. We are voyeurs on the outside of time, looking in.

This isn’t how we normally experience time, of course. We live in time. It’s something happening to us in a specific moment, like a dot on a timeline. In the first few minutes of the film, we are seeing one person’s timeline all at once, which highlights the brevity of life and causes us to feel as Solomon did, that life is a vapor and a vanity.

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

Book Review of Comfort Detox By Erin Straza

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Erin has been a mentor to me. We connected through Christ and Pop Culture (where I do some writing). She is the managing editor of the Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, which is for members only. And she has a podcast through CAPC, with Hannah Anderson, called Persuasion. This is one of my favorite podcasts, because these two women are deep thinkers, culturally savvy, and don’t spend too much time chatting and giggling (as do some podcasts for Christian women).

Now Erin has launched into the book publishing realm to release Comfort Detox: Finding Freedom From Habits That Bind You, through InterVarsity Press. She starts off with what she calls “The Shredding”, which for her was a defining moment in the red light district of India. This shredding was a humbling experience and a severe mercy that devastated her, but woke her up to the sorrowing world around her. And out of “The Shredding” came what she terms, “The Question”, which was, “What am I doing?” Erin finally faced this uncomfortable question when she came home from India; this is where her comfort detox began.

Erin does a great job explaining what she means by a comfort detox: it is rewiring our brain by rewarding it with true comfort, instead of the false comforts of this world, and thereby replacing old habits with good ones. She thoroughly analyses the culture around us and the craving for comfort, and specifically unpacks a few ways our culture attempts to satisfy this craving. Three broad categories, Erin proposes, for old, world-conforming habits are: convenience, safety, and perfection. These three areas are ways we seek comfort. But Erin points us in a new direction.

Her new direction is true comfort. And Erin unpacks the idea of God being our comforter. This where comfort is redeemed. As Erin says, “I have pursued the comfort of things, when all along comfort is a person.” She goes on to say that God designed us to crave comfort, but it was meant to find ultimate satisfaction in him. And the comfort from God does not stop here, but is joined together as we comfort others with the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:4), which in turn equals more comfort for us. Instead of collapsing inward, we must turn outward. This way, as Erin says, we’ll receive a full measure of comfort. She says, “True comfort enables us to turn outward – toward God for the comfort we need and toward others who need what comes only from God.” 

Erin reminds us that comfort is a mindless habit, and that the gospel overpowers the old habits of living for convenience, safety, and perfection and replaces them with “life-giving habits we need – compassion, trust, and humility – in order to walk free from the destructive habits that bind us.” She then ends the book with three chapters dedicated to the ways true comfort is set loose in our lives. First, we experience gospel freedom, then we are engaged with the sorrowing world around us, and finally we will be captivated by God’s kingdom purposes.

This book is a true treasure full of creative insight and deep biblical thought. Erin writes as she speaks (which, if you’re a writer, is a compliment). She writes clearly, thoughtfully, and vulnerably. It’s obvious she feels and cares deeply, and she inspires us to do the same.

Less is More? What Minimalism Can and Can’t Teach Us

must have always been a minimalist at heart. As a teenager I would periodically initiate a purge of unused and well-worn clothing. I would also routinely clean out my closet, throwing out the old to make room for the new. Now as an adult, I still enjoy the art of decluttering. I feel alive when I can throw together bags for donations or toss something in the trash. When I was first married, I impressed my decluttering ways upon my husband, helping him loosen his grip on baggy clothes from the ’90s, which he kept for sentimental reasons. (Interestingly enough, my husband has always had double the number of shoes I’ve had; when he was single, he would buy a pair of shoes a month.) Now my husband always wants to get rid of things too, though I still have fewer shoes and clothing than he does.

I guess I was cool before it was cool to declutter, or, as some like to call it: simplify. Now minimalism could be called a trend or a movement. And though it is about decluttering and simplifying, it is also much more. One of the leaders in the minimalist movement, Joshua Becker, defines it this way: “Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it” (25). For most of us, the term minimalism conjures up images of stark white walls, a solitary chair in the living room, bare countertops, and a cold hard mattress on the floor. It’s an extreme picture, though it could be true for some who call themselves minimalists. What Becker and others like him are trying to do is make minimalism more balanced and fit for everyone, not just bachelors. Minimalism is not just about decluttering, but owning less. It’s about letting go of your possessions before they possess you. It’s about simplifying your life and schedule, not just physical objects around your home. But all of this is done so you can pursue the things that do matter in life, whatever it is you value.

Read the rest at Christ and Pop Culture >>

Dream Weddings and Our Search for Wholeness

The gleam of a sparkly new ring, the rustle of satin and lace, promises made in tender budding love, and the glistening eyes of the groom as he beholds his bride are what make up the wedding dream. It’s the archetypal story of the princess who finally found her prince charming, and it all feels so perfectly magical. Weddings have long been a symbol of covenant relationship, but they seem to have morphed into something different, something more of an obsession. The dream wedding has become the utopia we all long for. It’s become the mirage we all envision and long for in this dry desert of a world—we think surely this will make me happy; surely now I will be complete. But as we walk through to the other side, we find ourselves still in the desert. We find ourselves still battling feelings of being incomplete, undone, and unsettled. Was it the wedding that failed to deliver? Was it the wrong bride/groom match-up? Was it the wrong timing? Nagging doubts demolish the fantasy of the dream wedding once real life resumes. The whole thing sets us up for a very disappointing post-wedding reality, scattering around us the casualties of disillusionment in the form of divorce.

But that sad reality is not what we think about, often because that’s not what the culture-at-large focuses upon. Our cultural wedding obsession is evident in the vast amount of reality shows dedicated to the big day. According to psychotherapist and divorce coach Micki Wade, “Shows like ‘Bridezillas’ and ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ have encouraged a cultural fascination with weddings, but it is our own entitlement that causes us to obsess over a one-day event…There is a much more materialistic emphasis today on the wedding.”

If you’ve ever planned your own wedding, or helped someone planned one, you know the cost is high. Each year in the United States, about 2.5 million people get married, and the industry is estimated to be $60 billion ($300 billion globally). The average wedding cost in the United States is $26,645. Couples typically spend between $19,984 and $33,306, but most couples spend less than $10,000. Money is where it’s at in the wedding industry. A quick scroll through Pinterest will help you find anything and everything wedding related: centerpieces, dresses, bouquet arrangements, photo booth ideas, favor ideas, themed cakes, table settings, and the perfect candy and dessert table spreads. Weddings are no small affairs and become the focal point for a couple once they decide to commit.

“The wedding is, on the one hand, a healthy way of making a public commitment to each other and acknowledging that you’re part of a web of family and friends that helps to nourish the relationship,” says Stephen Fabick, a consulting psychologist who specializes in conflict resolution. Planning the big day together can also build teamwork as a couple, preparing for a unified life. But when the main focus is the wedding, and not growing together as a couple, then the couple is set up for disillusionment, just like Fabick continues to say, “But on the other hand, it preps like a cancer, where the focus is on the show and not the long-term or reality of the relationship.”

In addition to the burgeoning wedding industry, we can also see this wedding obsession play out in the tabloids littering store checkout lanes. Personally obsessing over our own weddings isn’t enough; we also obsess over the preparation and planning of countless celebrity weddings, even those across the pond. Remember Prince William and Kate Middleton’s royal wedding? They literally embodied the archetypal story of Prince and commoner-turned-Princess; hopeless romantics everywhere swooned. And then there was the highly publicized wedding of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries the same year as Kate and William. Although Kim and Kris are far from royal status, their following is just as grand. Both weddings were major media events, with coverage on everything from the dresses to the guest lists to the receptions. Sadly, it only took 72 days for the Kardashian–Humphries marriage to end in an equally publicized divorce. And here we have the cultural dichotomy of wedding obsession and the common reality of painful divorce.

Read the rest at Christ and Pop Culture >>

Duty and Desire in The Crown

There is a complexity of ideas at play beneath the authentic scenery and elegant costumes of the new Netflix series The Crown. This tactful English drama set in post-war Britain centers on the rise and reign of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy). The camerawork and creative writing take us into the hidden realities of relationships between monarchy and family, monarchy and parliament, and monarchy and church. At the heart of it all is the interplay of duty and desire.

Read the rest at Think Christian >>